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Stephen Haddrill

With a diplomacy not often heard in the sector, the former civil servant who now heads the ABI praises the FSA as a world-class regulator on the one hand while compiling a dossier that aims to document its regulatory failings. But James Salmon finds he is more openly critical of the Government’s failure to give the pension industry adequate guidance ahead of A-Day and of its overzealous application of regulation in British industry

After less than six months as director-general of the ABI, Stephen Haddrill already sounds like a man well-versed in the intricacies of A-Day, the savings gap and the Swedish pension model.

His role in lobbying the Government and the FSA on behalf of the industry marks a fairly radical career change after more than 20 years working at the heart of the Establishment.

Haddrill arrived at the ABI from the Department of Trade & Industry in May after a lengthy career in various Government departments. He joined the Department of Energy from university in 1978, working mainly on nuclear power throughout the 1980s. He then travelled to Hong Kong to help governor Chris Patten and his predecessor preside over the transition from British to Chinese rule. The ABI director-general makes no bones about the difficulties in adjusting to the extra scrutiny which comes with working in the public eye after so long operating behind the closed oak-panelled doors of Whitehall.

“It is difficult because I have never done it before but it is a great challenge for me. But there is a lot of crossover between working for the ABI and as a civil servant as we both have to try to present good and well-researched arguments to help influence policy.”

A lengthy civil service career appears to have made Haddrill substantially more diplomatic when criticising the regulatory regime than some of his more bullish trade body counterparts. He avoids referring to the FSA in starkly critical terms, preferring to cite “areas of concern” and “challenges”.

He regards the FSA as a world-class regulator of wholesale markets and argues that it has done a great job in building up the capital reserves and solvency of firms in the wake of the Equitable Life debacle.

But one of the FSA’s “challenges”, which no doubt will be laid out with equal diplomacy in the ABI’s forthcoming dossier of regulatory failings, is to provide regulation which protects consumers without reducing competition and quality of service.

Haddrill is more openly critical about the Government’s failure to fully inform the industry about A-Day and says firms urgently need the full regulatory package and a clear timetable to work to.

“The industry is spending hundreds of millions of pounds on systems and redesign and these changes cannot be made overnight. We need the full regulatory package because, until we have got it, we are dealing with unknown unknowns. There are still basic questions, such as, if you put your second home in a Sipp, who regulates that – the FSA or estate agents?”

Haddrill says he is encouraged by the noises made in a recent Green Paper by European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy about stopping any major new directives going through, while cutting down on red tape and gold-plating. He is hopeful that the Commission will stick to its guns when it responds to industry consultation next month.

Much has been made of McCreevy’s radical pledge to remove bad regulation from the European statute books. But Haddrill says he is more interested in drawing a line under regulation and developing the rulebook rather than rolling it back. “The problem with removing legislation from the rulebook is that companies implement systems for regulation as it is and, when you remove that regulation, the associated costs are huge.”

But while Haddrill thinks there are signs that the Government has learnt from its overzealous application of EU directives in the past, he is not fully convinced. He cites its proposal to foist an EU directive on the UK which will force firms to pay 17.5 per cent VAT on some of their outsourced functions as a case in point.

“I am not sure that there is a full recognition in the Government that we do seem to be requiring more of British industries than some other member states require of their own firms. I appreciate that Brit- ain wants to be a good European citizen but that should not be at the expense of British industry.”

Moving on to the trifling question of how to solve the pension crisis, Haddrill is adamant that the Government must reenergise savings through the workplace. He believes it needs to target the six million employees, or 20 per cent of the British workforce, who are “throwing their money away” by not taking up their employers’ contributory pensions schemes. Automatic enrolment with an opt-out would engage at least five million non-savers, he claims.

Haddrill also believes that financial incentive rather than compulsion is the way to go. “Employers have to be free to choose whether to invest in their pension scheme depending on the competitive situation they are in. We have to be sensitive to that.”

Unsurprisingly, he is critical of the centrally-administered Swedish pension system which some commentators believe Adair Turner is verging towards. Haddrill argues that the savings enabled by centralised administration would not be worth the risk. “Ninety per cent of saving goes into the state default fund, building up a huge fund at the centre of the economy. That does not make economic sense, let alone sense for the individual.”

So what does the ABI director-general do when not addressing Scandinavian pension models? Haddrill professes to be a keen sailor and cricket fan but is “too old and too fat” to be doing a Flintoff any time soon.

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